Cape Chamber of Commerce raises concerns about aspects of land reform report

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The new proposals on property rights and land expropriation contained in the recently released report by the Presidential Land Reform and Agriculture Advisory Panel make it clear that the process will be tightly controlled, and this will go a long way to eliminate fears of disorder, according to the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In spite of this, there are still concerns about expropriation without compensation even if it takes place on a limited scale.

Geoff Jacobs, president of the chamber, said he was pleased to note that the panel of experts agreed that the reasons for the slow pace of land reform were related to administration failures and better processes were needed rather than dangerous short cuts. "We are particularly pleased that measures will be put in place to limit corruption and ensure that redistributed land goes to those who work for it and not to a new elite," Jacobs said in a statement.

Also pleasing for the chamber was the recommendation that land owned by state entities could be expropriated without compensation.

"This is particularly important in a place like Cape Town where we have extensive tracts of under-used military land. It also makes sense because it will relieve the defence force of the maintenance costs," said Jacobs.

One of the main concerns for the chamber was the expropriation of land held purely for speculative purposes.

"The issue here is who makes the decision? The owner may well have bought the land to provide for future expansion, but his project could be on hold because of a sluggish economy," says Jacobs.

"Officials may argue that this is just an excuse and that the land should be expropriated without compensation. How will the decision be made and by whom?"

In the view of Jacobs, there was also a potential problem with "abandoned buildings" in cities.

"These may well be buildings hijacked by criminals and were only abandoned by the owner because he failed to get the necessary support from the country's law enforcement agencies. Once again this is difficult territory and the original owner may have right on his side," says Jacobs.

"The report still has to be turned into legislation and we would like to see proper appeal processes built in as well as access to the courts to ensure that property rights are fully protected."

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